• Outdoors VT: DVD features New England's critters
    By DARREN MARCY | April 03,2009
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    The spring peepers are about to begin their peeping and with it comes another spring to Vermont.

    The world of reptiles and amphibians don't often get the attention that other wildlife species garner.

    Snakes, frogs and salamanders just aren't as sexy as deer, turkeys and bears.

    Certainly it has something to do with their size and that they aren't obvious like a deer standing in a field or a moose in a bog.

    But, in their own way, amphibians and reptiles are fascinating critters and worthy of study and appreciation.

    And, now is the time to learn more about these animals and their habitats.

    If the peepers haven't already started their serenade, they will soon in a vernal pool near you.

    And while many species of amphibians and reptiles may be abundant in places, others are nearly impossible to find unless you know exactly where and when to look. Because most of us aren't herpetologists, most of us don't know when or where that is.

    A newly released interactive DVD will help.

    "Rattlers, Peepers & Snappers," is the result of a collaboration between wildlife videographer and editor Vince Franke and Jim Andrews of Middlebury College.

    The DVD was four years in the making as Franke videoed all over New England when time allowed in between his other projects and when the various species were active.

    Now complete, the DVD includes three hours of video coverage of all 52 breeding species of amphibians and reptiles in New England.

    While aimed at resource professionals, naturalists, teachers and students, the DVD would be of interest to anybody who appreciates wild critters, their habitat and the challenges biologists face in protecting sensitive species.

    Franke said one of the keys to the production was the knowledge of Andrews, who has been the driving force behind the Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas at Middlebury College.

    "He's very knowledgeable and he's focused on educating people on amphibians and reptiles and what we can do to reduce our effects on them," Franke said.

    A one-hour presentation, culled from the three hours of video footage on the DVD, will be aired at 7 p.m. Sunday on Vermont Public Television.

    The DVD

    This DVD, while not organized just like a traditional paper field guide, supplies much of the same information but with video, interviews and an ease of use that, in some ways, surpass a standard field guide.

    Speed is one advantage. If you know what species you're looking for, you can be watching a video of an expert herpetologist discussing the species within seconds.

    You can learn about its distribution, whether it is common or rare, habitat needs, visual identification, and listen to its vocalizations in about the same amount of time it would take to find the species in a guide and start reading.

    The program is divided into two sections: one for amphibians and one for reptiles with videos, field adventures, species specific information and videos and quizzes for each.

    The camera work is incredible, a result, Franke said, of the expertise of his guides and having a lot of patience at times.

    Two Vermont species the five-lined skink and the timber rattlesnake, both of which are found in Rutland County are so rare that few have ever seen them.

    Alcott Smith led Franke to some timber rattlers, finding some large rattlers and, later, footage of fall babies.

    "The most humbling thing about the rattlesnakes is they were just sprawled out sunning in the forests," Frank said.

    The skinks, Franke said, were even more of a challenge because they are hard to find and fast moving when they are found. He said the key was to go to an area where they had been seen before and then waiting for hours.

    "The skinks took a while to film," he said. "I think it's pretty unique footage. I don't think there's much footage out there of five-lined skinks in our area. It's great to be able to show that to people."

    Because of the way it's designed, you don't lose anything by watching the segments out of order allowing the viewer to hit the things most interesting to them or most appropriate to learn about a specific species as needed.

    Big honor

    Editing the three hours of footage into the one-hour show for VPT this Sunday was difficult, Franke said.

    "It was a bit of a challenge but I realized what would work best was to show the field trips," Frank said.

    Even then, there was too much video, so he pruned the field trips, each featuring an expert in the field, down from 15 to nine.

    "The field trips allowed people to go along and find out where these critters were and let these experts explain things in their own way," Franke said.

    The DVD has been released to wide acclaim including an honor in an international film festival.

    "Rattlers, Peepers & Snappers" will be given an honorable mention for Scientific Content at the 32nd International Wildlife Film Festival on May 9-16.

    Franke said it's quite an honor because the film festival draws entries from the British Broadcasting Corporation, National Geographic, Animal Planet International, and the Nature series on PBS.

    "All the big producers are there," Franke said. "It is nice to get recognized by the scientific community."

    Check this DVD out.

    Keeping a kid's attention in today's video-game world is difficult. A DVD like this one gives a parent a fighting chance and it will be fun and educational for everyone.

    "Rattlers, Peepers & Snappers" is $24.95 and is available from Peregrine Productions at www.rpsdvd.com.

    Darren Marcy is a local outdoor enthusiast. His Web site is www.DarrenMarcy.com. E-mail him at darren@darrenmarcy.com.
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